The Textbook Dilemma: To Buy or Not to Buy?

Advantage with a textbook

When you enter the bookshop on campus, you may be surprised at the price tags of the textbooks. Yes you are lucky if you can find one below 50 dollars. And each semester you will be studying different subjects, each coming with a textbook recommended by your lecturers. Are you going to burn your wallet during your four years in university? How to spend smartly? While there is no textbook answer to that, Digital Senior can give you some guidance about how to make the best use of your budget for textbook.

Textbook Dilemma

All the textbooks in the world (or rather in your campus bookshop) can be divided into three parts: recommended to buy, optional to buy and not recommended to buy. (You will find out nothing is compulsory in University, democracy is in abundance!) Let’s go through each one of them in turn.

Recommended to buy

There are a few kinds of textbooks which may fall under this category. If you believe that you will refer back to a particular textbook often in your subsequent studies, it may be worth buying. This is usually applicable to some modules that form the fundamentals of your study, such as statistics modules for economics and finance majors. Moreover, if the textbook requires repeated reading, because the content is hard to digest, it may be a good idea to own such a book. You can read it at your own convenience or highlight or make notes in the margin, without worrying about the restriction of the libraries. If the book is popular, you can even find it from some second-hand book markets such as Carousell or Bookfishing.

Besides the need for consistent study, there are some situations where you will have to buy the textbooks. For certain modules that you take, the lectures may have the open-book exam policy. Then by definition of the exam format, you will have to get a textbook. If you want to buy a second-hand book, make sure that the relevant parts for exams have been updated, so you won’t be reading or copying inaccurate information during exams.

Moreover, certain textbooks come with online access code to e-learning portal where students can practice online questions that may be taken as part of the class participation mark. Since each access code is unique, you have to get a brand new textbook. But for some instances, the bookshop may be selling the access code alone at a cheaper price. In that case, you may consider not to buy a textbook or to buy a second-hand one.

Optional to buy

The second kind of textbooks are optional to have. It may happen that one is clueless about what the lecturers say in class. That is often because the lecturers assume some prior knowledge in the class that you don’t really have or the lectures do not explain the concepts as thoroughly as what a textbook writer will do. This is a time when reading textbooks boosts your productivity in learning. However, if you realize that you just need to read the textbook once for understanding because the concepts are just unfamiliar instead of difficult, you may want to borrow the textbook or simply go for consultation with your professor.

Moreover, you may have great personal interest in certain area. If you are very much into the European history, then you may want to buy the textbook for that module so you can learn beyond the classroom. Personal passion is always a good reason to buy textbooks, but it may not be a sufficient reason. Think about whether you really need to own a book, not borrowing it from the library or even your professor (who appreciate students with strong interest in the subjects they teach).

Not recommended to buy

Not Recommended to Buy

Lastly, there are some textbooks which you may not wish to buy. While there are no books that you definitely cannot buy, some textbooks may not be good investment of money. It usually happens when you are taking some modules that are quite stand-alone from the rest and which you don’t have much interest in it (probably it’s one of the compulsory modules that your university designs into your curriculum). Buying a textbook is essentially making an investment. If it doesn’t generate a good return because you won’t use it very often, you may not want to buy it to begin with.

Will I gain advantage with a textbook?

Now, here’s a compelling reason to be a good student- to save money. If you have been attending lectures, chances are you won’t need to buy a textbook. We are serious, most of the content on the textbook is redundant. 99.999% of what is tested in exams is taught in class. You may probably gain the 0.001% by reading the whole textbook, of course unless you have a mean prof who is out to make things difficult for you. The bottom line is: it is safe to say that you won’t need to buy textbooks for most of your modules to score an A. You may need a textbook for a distinction. Disclaimer: Exercise your own judgment, there are always modules that are outliers. We will not be held responsible for your academic mishaps.

It is unlikely that you will graduate from your university without a single textbook in your bookshelf. But it may not be wise to stuff your bookshelf with heavy, thick books that you won’t touch after one semester. If buying a textbook is an investment, invest wisely.


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